, an ancient Greek poet, was a Sicilian 1 and born at Syracuse, the son of Praxagoras and Philina. He is said to have been the scholar of Philetas, and Asclepiades, or Sicelidas: Philetas was an elegiac poet of the island of Cos, had the honour to be preceptor to Ptolemy Philadelphus, and is celebrated by Ovid and Propertius: Sieelidas was a Samian, a writer of epigcams: Theocritus mentions both these with honour in his seventh Idyllium. As to the age in which he flourished, it seems indisputably to be ascertained by two Idylliums that remain: one is addressed to Hiero king of Syracuse, and the other to Ptole^ ray Philadelphus, the Egyptian monarch. Hiero began his reign, as Casaubon asserts in his observations on Poly^­bius, in the second year of the 126th olympiad, or about 275 years before Christ; and Ptolemy in the fourth year of the 123d olympiad. Though the exploits of Hiero are recorded greatly to his advantage by Polybius, in the first book of his history; though he had many virtues, had | frequently signalized his courage and conduct, and distinguishes himself by several achievements in war; yet he stems, at least in the early part of his reign, to have expressed no great affection for learning or men of letters: and this is supposed to have given occasion to the 16th Llyllinm, inscribed with the name of Hiero; where the poet asserts the dignity of his profession, complains that it met with neither favour nor protection, and in a very artful manner touches upon some of the virtues of this prince, and insinuates what an illustrious figure he would have made in poetry, had he been as noble a patron, as he was an argument for the Muses.

His not meeting with the encouragement he expected in his own country, was in all probability the reason that induced Theocritus to leave Syracuse for the more friendly climate of Alexandria, where Ptolemy Philadelphus then reigned in unrivalled splendour, the treat encourager of arts and sciences, and the patron of learned men. In his voyage to Egypt he touched at Cos, an island in the Archipelago not far from Rhodes, where he was honourably entertained by Phrasidamus and Antigenes, who invited him into the country to celebrate the festival of Ceres, as appears by the seventh Idyllium. There is every reason to imagine that he met with a more favourable reception at Alexandria, than he had experienced at Syracuse, from his encomium on Ptolemy, contained in the 17th Idy Ilium; where he rises above his pastoral style, and shows that he could upon occasion (as Virgil did afterwards) exalt his Sicilian Muse to a sublimer strain, paulo majora: he derives the race of Ptolemy from Hercules, he enumerates his many cities, he describes his great power and immense riches, but above all he commemorates his royal munificence to the sons of the Muses. Towards the conclusion of the 14th Idyllium, there is a short, but very noble panegyric on Ptolemy: in the 15th Idyllium he celebrates Berenice, the mother, and Arsinoe, the wife of Ptolemy. Little else of this poet’s life can be gathered from his works, except his friendship with Aratus, the famous author of the * 4 Phenomena;" to whom he addresses his sixth Idyllium, and whose amours he describes in the seventh. It is mentioned by all his biographers, that he red an ignominious death, and they derive their infuniiation from a distich of Ovid in his Ibis,

Utque Syracosio przestrirta fauce poetae,

Sic auiniae laqueo sit via clausa tux.

| But it does not appear, that by the Syracusan poet, Ovid means Theocritus; more probably, as some commentators on the passage have supposed, Empedocles, who was a poet and philosopher of Sicily, is the person pointed at: others mink that Ovid by a small mistake or slip of his memory might confound Theocritus the rhetorician of Chios, who was executed by order of king Aritigonus, with Theocritus the poet of Syracuse.

The compositions of this poet are distinguished among the ancients by the name of “I-iyllia,” in order to express the smallness and variety of their natures; they would novr be called “Miscellanies, or Poems on several Occasions.” The nine first and the eleventh are confessed to be true pastorals, and hence Theocritus has usually passed for nothing more than a pastoral poet: yet he is manifestly robbed of a great part of his fame, if his other poems have not their proper laurels. For though the greater part of his “Idyllia” cannot be called the songs of shepherds, yet they have certainly their respective merits. His pastorals doubtless ought to be considered as the foundation of his credit. He was the earliest known writer of pastorals, and will be acknowledged to have excelled all his imitators, as much as originals usually do their copies. There are, says Dr. Warton, “few images and sentiments in the Eclogues of Virgil, but what are drawn from the Idylliums of Theocritus: in whom there is a rural, romantic wildness of thought, heightened by the Doric dialect; with such, lively pictures of the passions, and of simple unadorned nature, as are infinitely pleasing to lovers and judges of true poetry. Theocritus is indeed the great store-house of pastoral description; and every succeeding painter of rural beauty (except Thomson in his Seasons) hath copied his images from him, without ever looking abroad upon the face of nature themselves.” The same elegant critic, in his dissertation on pastoral poetry, says, “If I might venture to speak of the merits of the several pastoral writers, I would say, that in Theocritus we are charmed with a certain sweetness, a romantic rusticity and wildness, heightened by the Doric dialect, that are almost inimitable. Several of his pieces indicate a genius of a higher class, far superior to pastoral, and equal to the sublimest species of poetry: such are particularly his Panegyric on Ptolemy, the fight between Amycus and Pollux, the Epithalamium of Helen, the young Hercules, the grief of Hercules for | Hylas, the death of Pentheus, and the killing of the Neniean Lion.” At the same time it imi;t be allowed that Theocritus descends sometimes into gross and mean ideas, and makes his shepherds ahusive and immodest, which is never the case with Virgil.

This poet was first published in folio at Milan in 1493, again by Aldus at Venice, in 1495, and by Henry Stephens at Paris, in 1566, with other Greek poets, and without a Latin version: a good edition also in Greek only was printed at Oxford, by bishop Fell, in 1676, 8vo. There are, since, the editions of Martin, Loud. 1760, 8vo, the very splendid one of Thomas Warton, 1770, 2 vols. 4to; and of Valckenaer, Leyden, 1773, 8vo. Dr. Thomas Edwards also published a very correct and critical edition of “Selecta quaedam Theocriti Idyllia,1779, 8vo. 1


Vossius Poet. Grace. Fabric. Bibl, Graec. Life prefixed to Fawkes’s Translation. —Saxii Onomast.